Dr. Tommy Cairns and mulch

andrearkAugust 13, 2012

Some of you know that I am a floundering rose novice.

I just read an article that states that Dr. Cairns says

never to use bark or colored mulch on your roses....

Well, guess what? I covered my new rose garden with

Scott's Earthgrow Red mulch...

Now what? If you all think that this is NOT a great thing, then I

will shovel it all up this weekend and replace it

with what ever you all suggest.



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dublinbay z6 (KS)

I don't know about the particular brand you mentioned, but I regularly add pine bark mulch.

If the mulch you used is "dyed" red, I'm not sure what I think about all these new dyed mulches, but I certainly would not shovel it all up once I took the trouble to put it down--but I might decide to switch to pine bark mulch the next time around.

Yes, there are some gardeners who are opposed to mulch. To each his/her own, I guess. : )


    Bookmark   August 13, 2012 at 10:33PM
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mike_rivers(z5 MI)

Dr. Cairns favored compost over any other mulch material for roses, no matter whether the other material is bark, colored or what have you. His thought was that compost is just as good at stopping weeds and in addition it supports living organisms which lower the population of harmful fungus spores either by competing for food or by actually devouring the spores.
I think Cairns makes a good point and if you agree, I think the simplest thing to do is just mix an inch or so of compost in with the Earthgro shredded pine bark mulch you've already applied.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2012 at 10:36PM
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Glenburn(z8/z9 Mudgee, NSW Aust)

Andrea, the colored bark/mulsh looks good. What is needed in a mulch in various sizes of material, can you imagine a bisciut of hay/lucerne/alfafa, some bigger than others, the smaller material breaks down for the earthworms/microbes to add it to the surrounding soils which intern becomes food for the roses

    Bookmark   August 14, 2012 at 2:38AM
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michaelg(7a NC Mts)

Many thousands of successful gardeners use bark mulch. It's fine.
After a year or two it will become compost.

No telling what's in the dye, but surely they have tested it on plants. I don't like the idea, though.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2012 at 10:44AM
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jerijen(Zone 10)

I don't even like the LOOK of that dyed mulch.

But we have used redwood bark mulch for decades.


    Bookmark   August 14, 2012 at 12:23PM
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seil zone 6b MI

I used similar shredded, dyed wood mulch in the past and had no problem with the roses as a result. It's not going to hurt anything and you've already invested the time and money into it so leave it. When you need to replenish next time look for something more natural.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2012 at 3:27PM
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The following article may be useful as a guide for newcomers.

Here is a link that might be useful: Reap the rewards of mulching your roses

    Bookmark   August 14, 2012 at 3:51PM
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Probably a lot along the lines of "which is better, Ford or Chevy? Norelco or Remington?", etc., but I personally prefer not using "nuggets" or "chunks" of bark for mulch. In my drier climate, it NEVER fully breaks down so it adds very little (if anything) to the soil. It provides many hiding places for snails, earwigs, sow bugs and other critters and makes it almost as impossible to remove debris from the beds as pea gravel (HATEFUL stuff!). Bark chunks or nuggets are frequently used in places where there is little "landscaping" just to prevent anything from growing at all. Think mobile home parks (along with rock mulch), commercial landscaping where zero maintenance is preferred, etc.

I much prefer products like Gorilla Hair (shredded cedar) for beds with any slope to them as it knits together, preventing it from eroding down with water and gravity while still permitting air and water to penetrate and reducing weeds significantly as well as reducing heat and maintaining moisture. Because it is larger pieces, it needs to be put down thicker than the following to provide the same insulation value.

For level beds, I prefer composted materials; planting mixes, horse manure, etc. Something which adds humus to the soil, suppresses weeds, holds moisture, insulates against high soil temps and gives the beds a finished look, like carpet in a room. Kim

    Bookmark   August 14, 2012 at 4:15PM
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Here's another good article on wood chip mulch.

Here is a link that might be useful: wood chip article

    Bookmark   August 15, 2012 at 1:36PM
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We use red dyed wood mulch--it reduces the need for watering and suppresses the weeds. We grow over 200 roses--which is more than enough to experiment with different techniques to see what works well without working too hard--wood mulch is well worth the effort in our yard. Leaving more time for really tough tasks like removing tree stumps...

    Bookmark   August 15, 2012 at 2:30PM
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jim1961 Zone 6a Central Pa.

I've used red dyed mulch for 10+ years with no problems. If your concerned just wait until the mulch needs replaced and use a more natural mulch on top of the red dyed mulch...

    Bookmark   August 15, 2012 at 2:48PM
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mike_rivers(z5 MI)

I wasn't very clear in my first post so I'll try again. Nothing I've read over the years from Dr. Tommy Cairns suggests that he thinks dyed bark mulches are harmful for roses, he just thinks compost mulches are superior, mostly because they help control blackspot and other fungal diseases to a greater extent.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2012 at 3:27PM
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Cornering mulch and fires mentioned in wirosarian's link. We just had a large fire that heavily damaged a local motel/hotel.

Video - http://fox8.com/2012/06/08/officials-stark-co-hotel-fire-started-in-mulch-bed/

Second similar video - http://www.wkyc.com/video/1666388294001/1/Avon-Mulch-combusts-sparks-house-fire

    Bookmark   August 15, 2012 at 5:34PM
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I use compost around my roses, and it does not suppress weeds. However, the compost is so light and friable, that pulling the weeds is an easy task. I have not noticed that compost controls BS, but it does seem that BS is not unmanageable so far among my roses. I had to remove nearly all the leaves of Golden Rain, Landora and Charmain, all roses with reputations for being susceptible to disease. I then applied compost around the roots and sprayed the entire plant with an organic fungicide. I believe the active ingredient is sessame oil. New leaves are growing, and so far, have no BS.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2012 at 12:38AM
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I don't recommend bark mulch because it's difficult to feed the roses. I have only one bed mulched with bark chips, a short gallica hedge with 10 plants where I don't want companion plants or weeds. Liquid bottle feed has been my only solution although I don't approve of it in general for garden plants. All other roses are either in mixed beds or are specimen plants with enough bare space around them to add compost, leaf mould and manure.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2012 at 5:47AM
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I mulch with whatever I can get my hands on...leaves, clippings, and loads of tree-chips from local tree-services, when they cut down a tree they run it through a chipper, I scored a 'clean oak tree' awhile back, and right now there is a truck-load of 'old pine tree' in my driveway waiting to be shoveled up and hauled around to my 150+ roses... I also put down Black_Hen , Milorganite, Alfalfa pellets, kitchen scraps, cat-litter box scoops, dead fish....and earth-worms love it all, and am trying to get a load of rabbit-poo from a GWer...never-ending, is it...sally

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 1:57PM
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Never ending for you, definitely! You get rain, humidity and heat, all of which, when combined with your feeding, breaks the mulch down quite quickly. But, you need to do that for sandy soils or there is nothing but sand! In drier or colder areas, mulches last a lot longer as the "digestive process" is slowed. Kim

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 3:46PM
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Exactly, Sally. Sometimes I feel like that's all I do. I've put down so far three large trailer loads of approximately 50/50 percent horse poop/wood shavings. It will be composted in no time, ad I'll be doing it again. One year I did oak leaves, and I've also used old grass hay. Right now, the horse poop/wood shavings are the easiest.

I used to have a good friend in the tree removal business and had an unlimited supply of finely chipped oak. Those were the days.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 7:53PM
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I've used liquid fertilizers in the past. Then I did a soil test and found that our roses just need nitrogen--which means I can sprinkle lawn fertilizer on top of the mulch with a hand spreader--the nitrogen dissolves in water!

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 9:39AM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

Any mulch (that breaks down--not rocks or fabric) is light years better than no mulch. Don't worry about it. Just renew it regularly and in a few years your soil quality will be wonderful.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 10:51AM
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My normal procedure was to purchase bagged mulch. Most of our neighbors had a bulk load dumped in their driveway. Since that was much cheaper, I decided to try it one season. The next morning after application my rose seedlings were in obvious distress. I then found out that any wood product could go into the bulk included treated. I returned to buying bagged mulch. One year my local supplier had run out of bags, I purchased "discount" bags from a non nursery. I ended up with a severe allegeric reaction to the mold in those bags. I still use mulch but I appreciate the saying that you get what you pay for

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 11:08AM
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anntn6b(z6b TN)

This thread is the ultimate example of YMMV, your mileage may vary.

Dr. Cairnes grows roses in Southern California and I doubt that he knows where his umbrella is nine months of the year. Mulch may not break down at all for him. Composted plant material may last years for him.

Those conditions are so far from how folks in the eastern US grow roses that I don't think I could begin to compare our techniques.

Some of us have great variability in what nature gives our roses from year to year. That's why one size doesn't fit all when it comes to how many inches of mulch should we use, should we use mulch at all, and when and how we apply fertilizers. Likewise, when does planning for winter affect how we treat all of our gardens.

Variables matter a whole lot. It's why we need to pay more attention to our own gardens and keep our minds open to what may be happening.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 3:54PM
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Floridarosez, it would be a lot cheaper for me if I could get loads of that horse-poo, but I haven't been able to persuade Calvin to take me out to the barns, no matter how much I nag...so I'm going to go myself and see if they perhaps have some guy to do the shovelling and another guy to deliver it and spread it around !! until then, most of my poo comes from my prolific kitties, my little fur-balls, so reliable..sure stinks, tho'...and it's free! free is good......sally

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 5:32PM
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nanadollZ7 SWIdaho(Zone 7 Boise SW Idaho)

What's that thing you're calling an umbrella? I just checked and it's 12% humidity here, as it is day in and day out this time of year, and 96 degrees heading for 99. No large hunk bark mulch ever breaks down here...ever. I totally agree with you, Kim, that in dry areas coarse bark mulch doesn't work. When we moved here eight years ago, we had the landscapers from hell. I was sick and didn't moniter what they were doing very well, but I expressly told them no bark mulch on the many flower beds they had laid out. Well, one day, after not feeling well, I finally got to look at their latest work, and of course, they had covered every bed with a thick layer of the coarsest, cheapest bark mulch they could buy. Even the vegetable garden area was covered (I did make them remove that). Now, eight years later, I still find that darn stuff in corners and niches here and there. It's still giving me microscopic splinters when I gather it up to remove it--they go right through gloves. The stuff didn't stop erosion on our many slopes, either. It just slid on down with everything else. I'm very interested in that Gorilla Hair Kim mentioned for a few selected areas, but I depend on compost, manure, and most of all, closely growing plants, for mulch and erosion protection. I guess all gardening, like politics, is indeed local. Diane

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 6:45PM
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Sally, I pick mine up as it's easier to park the trailer where I want it. But the stable where I pick mine up will have a huge dumpster of it delivered to me for $50. Less if you're closer. It wouldn't hurt to call a few stables. Disposal is a problem for a lot of them.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 11:13PM
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I think that's one of the sickest things about horse manure. Around here, it is a "toxic waste" and has to be disposed of in dumpsters. One waste disposal company told me they bury it in the landfill. What a horrible waste! We already are running out of landfill space and the methane being produced by them is a huge issue. More green waste programs need to be taking the stuff and running through their processes. I trust it more than I do the lawn clippings full of Marathon and herbicides. Kim

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 11:47PM
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Every word you say is true, Kim. Where do the powers that be think we're going to be in 20 years with the stuff they're putting in landfills. Manure is nothing but processed grains and grasses, and it makes such an amazing difference in soil quality. If someone doesn't take this manure where I go, it also ends up in the landfill. And that's one, small, local stable. They fill a huge dumpster every two weeks, and it must go somewhere.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2012 at 4:02PM
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Floridarosez, that's a good idea, but if they do deliver, in a dumpster, what do they then do w/it? I was hoping to be able to have them shovel the stuff into large plastic bags so I could distribute them around to the beds, w/o doing a lot of shoveling myself, I have a bad back and cry old-age, then the bags could just be slit open where they belonged... I already have the load of 'old pine tree' in my driveway and doubt if there's room for more, also the neighbors would no doubt take notice.... I just need to nag my Calvin more...LOL, sally

    Bookmark   August 19, 2012 at 6:03PM
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buford(7 NE GA)

I've been using the Naturscapes mulch and haven't had any problems. I think you should avoid it with seedlings. But for established roses, it's fine.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2012 at 7:19PM
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buford(7 NE GA)

Also, I leave the area around the drip line of the roses bare (no mulch) and I regularly put compost, composted manure and other organic fertilizers in that spot. So I have the mulch in the areas between the roses, not directly on the roses.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2012 at 7:27PM
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Sally, that would be a problem for you since I think you're in the city. They just dump it and it's up to you to get it hauled where you need it. I pay a neighbor boy to help me spread it. It takes a couple of days to do a trailer load. I also have arthritis and am only good for a few hours a day at most. Not sure how long a dumpster full would take. I still haven't finished all my beds, so I must get more.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2012 at 8:15PM
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Kippy(SoCal zone 10. Sunset Zone 24)


I was told by a guy who just graduated from Cal-Poly SLO with a degree in soils, that the standards for certified organic gardening has just changed so that the horse manure is no longer considered organic. (Between the horses being wormed and the alfalfa probably being sprayed I can see the point, but 'Organic' has been so changed by the big companies that calling horse manure non organic seems wrong)

Because I did not want to buy uncolored bark not on sale (sale stuff is cheaper often) we just used the leaves off the guava hedges I am shortening for the roses we just put in a few weeks ago. Fairly thick layer and these leaves are rather thick so they take longer to break down. But they will work and the price was right! We just fill our green waste bin with the small limbs and branches.

I am going to get some horse manure in a couple of weeks, fresher and I have to gather. But on craigslist I can find one guy that for $10 will start up his back hoe and fill your truck bed with horse manure that he has already composted. We got a lot of composted manure last spring from a stable that puts it in piles and lets sit for a year + before they give away piles. They have a whole system, pretty amazing, but it does not go to the landfill.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2012 at 10:58PM
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